Learning the Lessons of Fleet Management
A handful of fleet managers — past and present — look at how their time in the industry, and the experiences they have weathered, have changed how they approach the job at hand.
Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.
There is no magic book that can prepare someone for a new position. No piece of advice that will cover all the bumps someone will experience along the road. And, there is no one guru who can answer all of the burning questions that follow people throughout their careers in the fleet industry. No two situations are identical, although there might be more than a few similarities that exist.
In an effort to gain more insight into the inner workings of a fleet manager's psyche, we reached out to a number of industry veterans to give readers some lessons that others have learned, either through successes or failures, and how these experiences have changed the way they perform their job.
The Power of Networking
When fleet was handed to me in five boxes and I was told this is your new position, I was lost. I didn't have any experience and no one within the company to go to. So what I learned over time is the power or networking. There are two types of networking: internal and external to your company.
First I needed to align myself with internal networking partners. Once they learned I was here to help them and help control cost, I quickly gained internal networking partners. External took longer, only because I didn't know anyone in the fleet industry. I first looked to vehicle manufacturers and leasing companies. I began networking with those groups and gaining knowledge of best practices for my fleet. I also became more involved in our fleet industry by joining the NAFA Fleet Management Association, attending fleet industry events, participating in my leasing company's client advisory board, and joining social networks such as LinkedIn.
All of this was possible because of networking within the fleet industry. It is amazing what you can learn from your networking partners. After 14 years, my networking community is still growing.
Christine Syed, Fleet/Facilities Administrator, Mission Foods
Simple Reduction through Idling
I was asked to cut fleet costs a few years back. We are a water utility company, so a lot of our fleet work is in the street. Our vehicles do a lot of idling, so I had to find a way to get drivers to shut down their trucks. We installed GPS tracking in all operational vehicles starting in 2012. I ran monthly idle reports from the beginning of 2012 to the end of 2013. I rolled out the idle-reduction plan in September of 2012, informing all employees of the idle laws in the state (3 minutes). We added idle-monitoring systems in some of the trucks and held weekly meetings for all departments emphasizing the need to shut off the trucks.
The bottom line: We saw a fuel savings in 2013 of 15,000 gallons of gasoline in 170 vehicles compared to 2012. This is without discipline or reward to the drivers with a lot of room for improvement.
Bruce Ottogalli, Transportation Manager, United Water
Collaboration + Buy-In = Success
One of the lessons I learned in my career is that success comes much easier when you have the collaboration and buy-in from stakeholders. I've had a few initiatives that have failed or not gotten off the ground because I didn't have the support from internal stakeholders.
One example goes back to when I first started in fleet. When I was hired into the position, I was told to "go fix" a problem in another region. Not knowing any better, and brand new to global responsibility, I went ahead and met with my fellow colleagues and told them "this is what we're going to do." Needless to say, I wasn't successful in "fixing the problem."
Members of my team and I now work closely with our stakeholders and internal customers. We will reach out to them with recommendations, new initiatives, and to understand what's going on in the business. By better understanding the business, culture, and the market we're working in, it helps us make better-informed decisions and provide valued fleet expertise and solutions to the company and our drivers.
Christy Coyte Meyer, Director, Global Fleet Management, Johnson Controls, Inc.
Sometimes Fixing a Problem Can Cause One
I was talked into changing an OEM specification on a group of vehicle orders. We were trying to address an issue that, in the end, only occurred part of the time, but we ended up creating a new set of issues that now occurred every day. Unless it's for safety concerns, rarely, if ever, should changes be made due to exceptions without understanding broader everyday impacts.
Abe Stephenson, Fleet and Administration Manager, DISH
Investing in Your Education
The biggest lesson I have learned as a fleet professional is the need to invest in your career education continually. One of the major challenges we find in hiring fleet professionals is there are too many that have not invested in their careers and are not up to the task of changing quickly at the accelerated pace of business. Many of today's fleet professionals spend much of their time firefighting. I would call on fleet leaders to become more strategic and focus more on proactively planning the future of their operations.
Steven Saltzgiver, VP Fleet Management, Republic Services
Always Review Before Submitting
After being in this business for the last 21 years, I think the biggest revelation that came to me occurred in 2007 when my associate, Rose Gunnerson, and I were looking at current invoices on our lease purchases. We both asked ourselves, are we a 100-percent sure that our lease Schedule A's and our cap costs were being calculated correctly and included all the front-end rebates and face of invoice discounts?
We decided we would audit our old lease purchases (back to 2005) and soon discovered that we had not been receiving all of our front-end rebates from the manufacturer. They had mistakenly sent the front-end rebates to my lease vendor (the dollar amount was quite a large number). We had to contact the fleet lease vendor, send them a copy of the leases that were missing front end rebates, ask that they be applied to our current vehicle cap cost, and have the payment schedule re-calculated — a large task but one the lease vendor did an outstanding job on for us. It saved our company a ton of money. Since that day, we have always made sure that the front-end caps or CPAs always contain the correct instructions for payment, whether it be directed to us or be deducted from the cap cost during the purchase cycle. So, review your cap cost invoices as soon as you get them to eliminate something like this from happening to you.
Donnie Woloszynek, Sales Service Manager, National Gypsum
Don't Expect, Check
Just because you ask a sales rep to complete something and send it back in, it doesn't mean they will do it!
When we started our motor vehicle record (MVR) program, we sent out the MVR form and expected everyone to complete it and send it back in. We didn't cross check to see that everything was turned in until several months later; only to find out we had a small percentage of folks who didn't send their form back. When we finally did get them to send them in, we found that they had a significantly higher rate of infractions than those who sent them in promptly.
Know your fleet and how it is used. Don't assume anything and communicate with your operators. There's nothing worse than buying the right vehicle for the wrong job (been there, done that). Keep up-to-date on new vehicles and applicable technologies, so you don't get behind the technology curve. Most importantly, develop a credible and defensible replacement methodology, and explain what factors go in and how you arrive at the recommendations to get the support of the executive management.
Dale Collins, CAFM, Fleet Services Supervisor, Fairfax Water
Become Technically Competent
A big lesson I learned was to become technically competent in your fleet to better understand the needs of your clients and drivers. For example, if you have a delivery fleet, understanding what is important to meet the delivery objectives can help provide better solutions. When I started in fleet I really didn't know much and I had to learn through technically competent people. Also, utilizing data to understand cost structures and issues was very important to help remove emotion from fleet discussions. Often, people get emotional about the "needs and wants" with their vehicles and when you can put pencil to paper you can better define solutions.
Pete Silva, Retired Senior Director, Fleet/Indirect Procurement, PepsiCo Global Procurement
Educate, Educate, Educate
The most important lesson I've learned, and best advice I can give, is summed up best in three simple words: educate, educate, educate. The fleet management capability is easily overlooked (especially when it runs well) so the need to be in front of executives providing line of sight to current and future initiatives/expenses is critical.
Jason Pucely, Senior Manager, Transportation and Logistics, Best Buy
Research Before You Buy
I have been with the same company in the aggregate and asphalt supplier business for 34 years. My first and largest mistake moving into a fleet management role was purchasing dump truck straight trucks. My thought was lighter and less-expensive trucks and bodies would haul more products and save the company money. That philosophy worked for about two years and then became costly.
Richard Johnson, Transportation Manager